8/7/2018 Foot of the Golden Staircase –> Lake Marjorie
We woke up around 4:30 and quickly packed up (it was a lot faster for the other guys because they didn’t have a tent to put away!) I had a quick breakfast, some cheerios, and an energy bar and drank some water, then we headed towards the trail. I had a little bit of trouble finding the trail in the early morning darkness, even with my headlamp, but eventually, I got on and started my day.
The Golden Staircase was still a ways off from where we had camped, but it was a steady uphill trek to the base of it. I wasn’t quite sure where it started, but it sure was a lot of uphill in a short amount of time, and it was exhausting. Even though it was easier in the cool morning air, I still fell behind the others very quickly. I was okay with this. I wanted to keep a pace that was good for me, not one that would cause me to tire out faster and potentially injure myself. I could quickly see why they called it a staircase though, it was steep and at some points, the rock had actually been cut into stairs, so it was literally a staircase.
As the sun began to rise, it caused some really beautiful shadows in the valley below. I enjoyed it for a while, but realized that with the sun comes the heat, so I’d need to get moving soon. There were a lot of false summits along this area, where you think you’ve made it to the top and then you get to that spot and see you still have quite a ways to go. It was pretty discouraging. I decided to stop for a Snickers, one that I had been hoarding since finding it in the hiker bin at MTR. It was SO worth it, and it gave me the motivation I needed to be able to make it up that final push to the top.
At the top, I found Justin, who had made it up the Golden Staircase the night before and was just waking up for the morning. At that point I had been hiking for almost three hours and needed a rest already, and he was packing up his things from the night before. I waited for him to finish packing and used the water from a nearby creek to wash out my socks and do a bit of laundry. I hung my wet clothes off my pack to dry and refilled my water and then Justin and I headed out.
Because I was still holding my slow pace, he soon passed me and was out of sight, but said he would wait for me up on top of Mather Pass, where we would hopefully be around lunchtime. I hiked on alone for a while, stopping to take off my hiking pants and switch to shorts when the sun came out. There were some hikers refilling their water bottles in a creek that I was crossing and one of them dropped his water bottle in. Before I even knew what I was doing, I reached in and grabbed it as it passed by. I felt like a ninja as I handed it back to him.
I got to the base of Mather pass and looked up. The trail was rocky and steep, and I couldn’t even tell where the trail went until I saw little dots of color in the distance heading up. The people ahead of me didn’t even look like ants, they were too tiny for that. It was a lot bigger than I anticipated. Oh well, only one way to go!
I headed up (and up and up and up) for what seemed like forever. I stopped at one switchback and recorded a short video, announcing that I was just going to stop and live here on this switchback, I couldn’t make it up nor could I make it down, so this switchback endcap would be my home.
After I rested there for a bit (and realized I wouldn’t be able to get any ice cream if I decided to live on the switchback) I kept on heading upwards. All in all, it took me about three hours just to get up to the summit. At the summit I found Justin waiting for me, along with some new friends he had made, three girls around my age, Luana, Taylor and Lauren. The four of them were finishing up their lunches, Justin had traded a snickers bar for a packet of hot sauce (I think he lost out on that one, but I just have a soft spot for snickers). I pulled out my tuna wrap supplies and started making my own lunch as they headed down. Justing stayed with me for a moment and shared his plans for the night and then headed down after the girls. There were a couple of other people up on the summit, but soon they left and I was all alone. It was so cool to be alone up on top of a pass like that, and I enjoyed it while it lasted, but it was short lived because someone else came up the trail not too far after I did.
I was feeling a lot better after eating and taking in the gorgeous views, so I was going a lot faster as I headed down the other side of the pass. As I looked out at the flat valley at the bottom of the switchbacks, a funny feeling came over me. I have heard it called runner’s high when I was in Cross Country so I feel in this instance it might be called hikers high, but for some reason, I just knew I had to run. I started jogging down the switchbacks on the other side and before I knew it, I was fully running (carefully) down the gravel to the valley below.
When I got to the flat stretch of land at the foot of the switchbacks, I took a look at my watch and saw that I had taken 15 minutes to get down the other side of the mountain that had taken me 3 hours to get up. FIFTEEN MINUTES! I was still feeling good and looked at my map and the trail ahead to see almost seven miles of flat land ahead. I ran for 45 minutes and was well into the valley when I saw some people up ahead hanging out at one of the points where the river was a little bit deeper and easier to access. As I got closer, I could see that the people I saw were Taylor and Justin. I stopped running and hung out with them for a while, catching my breath and refilling my water. Soon, Luana and Lauren returned from another pool where they had been enjoying the water.
We took a break there and talked about schedules and our trip so far. They were surprised to learn that I hadn’t jumped in a lake so far, and had only gotten into one river other than the ones I had crossed. I don’t know why I didn’t get in more water sources, maybe I’m just not such a water person, maybe I was lazy and didn’t want to take off my boots, who knows! I didn’t want to get into this water either, but I still hung out and talked.
We all hiked on together, talking about a bunch of random things, sometimes walking in a group, sometimes separating and catching up to one another later on. We reached the South Fork Kings River crossing, which is where the girls had planned on staying for the night. They were feeling pretty good so they decided to stay with us. As we crossed the river, walking on a series of logs that were strewn across, I stepped as carefully as I could but on my last step I must have moved weird and plop! One boot stepped straight down into the river.
Wet boots at night, my favorite. I embraced the suck and kept on going, knowing we were relatively close to where we planned on camping for the night, Lake Marjorie. We kept going, up some switchbacks (which my wet feet were REALLY not a fan of) and past the Bench Lake Ranger Station, which according to my schedule, was where I was supposed to make it to today! Success!!! I was not only back on schedule, but I was going to be AHEAD of my schedule for the day! We were only 1.3 miles from Lake Marjorie, but the girls decided that this was far enough for them, so we took a quick selfie (just in case we never saw them again) then bid them good luck for finding a nice campsite for the night and kept going.
I was so tired and started to feel my feet start to drag, but I was determined to get to Lake Marjorie at that point. I kept going, step by squishy step until we finally reached Lake Marjorie. We set up camp on top of a ridge above the lake and I made cheddar broccoli rice with tuna for dinner. I added a little bit too much water, so it kind of ended up becoming a soup! It was still super tasty though!
After dinner, we stargazed for a while. It was so nice to be able to look up at the sky and see that many stars. It is something you really just don’t get to see in the “real world” and it was truly amazing. We could see the Milky Way, a bunch of shooting stars, even some satellites and UFOS! (just kidding….maybe).
Justin says he is going to get up at 4am tomorrow, to try to make it to Rae Lakes by night. That is about 20 miles away. I kind of doubt that he will wake up that early, but even if he doesn’t, it will likely be our last day on the trail together. It is interesting how quickly you can become friends with someone out here, I feel like its been a lot longer than 6 days of hiking together. It’s a little bittersweet to think about, but I’m also kind of looking forward to traveling solo again, and seeing who else I will meet along the way. I only have to make it 8 miles to stay on schedule, so I planned to wake up a little later and wait for my boots to dry completely. Who knows, maybe I’ll even jump in the water. We’ll see.
Thanks for reading!
Stats: Coming Soon! (Like soon soon. I promise)